Friday, March 20, 2009

On Location: California's Artisan Cheese Festival

Today I got up at 4:30 a.m., talked my husband into driving me to O'Hare, got on a plane to San Francisco, rented a car, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and up Hwy 101 all the way to Petaluma, California. 

All in the name of cheese. 

This weekend is California's Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma, located about an hour north of San Francisco. After only getting lost twice (had to stop in Sausalito for a ham & cheese on sliced sourdough), and nearly 15 hours after leaving home, I finally had the opportunity to taste more than 30 different artisan cheeses at tonight's Meet the Cheesemaker event. For great photos all weekend, visit the Canyon of Cheese blog, written by Bryce Allemann, who's also serving as assistant director at this year's festival.

I was on a particular mission to meet the owner of Beehive Cheese Co., after rediscovering his cheese at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest this past week. Beehive Cheese has the distinction of being one of only five artisan cheese plants in the entire state of Utah. I figured anyone who goes through the trouble of finding milk and making cheese in UTAH - of all places - has got to be worth talking to.

After a few minutes of stalking him from across the room, I caught up to Tim Welsh and his lovely wife, Kari, introduced myself, and found out the Welshes started Beehive Cheese from scratch in 2005. Prior to that, Tim and a business partner had been running a software company for 15 years and had the opportunity to sell. His partner went on to start another company and Tim decided to make cheese.

"Everybody thought I was nuts when I told them I was going to be a cheesemaker. They literally thought I was out of my mind," Tim told me tonight.

So Tim and Kari went on a cross-country mission, talking to other artisan cheesemakers and trying hundreds of different cheeses in an effort to decide what kind of cheese to craft. After major help from Utah State University's dairy center, Tim gave up his briefcase and laptop for the romance of making hand-crafted cheese.

Today, he procures 500 gallons of milk a day to make a variety of different American Originals. My favorite is Barely Buzzed (pictured above), a full bodied cheese with a nutty flavor and smooth texture that Tim makes in 20-pound wheels that are about 4 inches high. The cheese is hand rubbed with a Turkish grind of Colorado Legacy Coffee Company's (who just happens to be Tim's brother) "Beehive Blend". The blend consists of a mix of South American, Central American, and Indonesian beans roasted to different styles. 

Tim says French lavender buds are also ground with the coffee and the mixture is diluted with oil to suspend the dry ingredients in the rub. The result is an artisan cheese with notes of butterscotch and caramel which are of course more prevalent near the rind, but find their way nicely to the center. Barely Buzzed has won several major awards, including two first places at the American Cheese Society in 2007 and 2008 in the flavored cheddar category. 

Another favorite is Aggiano, a unique American Parmesan style cheese named after the Utah State Aggies. I have no idea what an Aggie is, but Utah State decided on it for their mascot. Pronounced "AGGI" ano, the recipe is courtesy of the Utah State University dairy center. A dry, yet creamy cheese, this beauty is tangy with a pineapple note (but not overpowering) and flakes off the wedge leaving a butterscotch aftertaste. Yummy.

So I know what you're thinking ... what exactly is a Utah cheesemaker doing at a Californian Artisan Cheese Festival? Well, when you've only got five cheesemakers in your entire state, you look to the closest place and hope they adopt you. And that's just what California has done. Smart move on their part, because if the Welshes were any closer, we Wisconsinites would claim them as our own. 

4 comments:

Golden Age Cheese said...

I enjoy reading your blog, check out mine sometime, and our cheese website. We manufacture cheese everyday. Thanks for posting!

http://www.goldenagecheese.com

Jeremy Warner MD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy Warner MD said...

I agree that the Aggiano was very memorable! We ate so much cheese today but that one definitely stood out. Check out my review tomorrow on Basic Eating

DCcheese said...

I'm jealous, would have loved to attend the Petaluma festival. We need more cheese fests here on the East Caost!

Love the story of Beehive, but I just wasn't in love with Barely Buzzed. (Reviewed it last week.) I did quite enjoy their new SeaHive cheese though, rubbed in honey and sea salt. Great and more subtle flavors.